One of my biggest achievements in 2014 has been helping my boyfriend Spencer kick his “Rum & Diet Coke” habit.   As the evidence against consuming aspartame continues to mount, and my harping grew louder and louder, Spencer could no longer ignore that diet coke simply was not a smart choice.   Mind you, he wasn’t planning on giving up the rum, just the Diet Coke 😉



Spencer began his quest to kick the DC habit by purchasing a Soda Stream Sparkling Water Maker.    We could not get it shipped here to the Virgin Islands, because of the pressurized tanks, so Spencer purchased one when he made a trip stateside, and brought it back through the airlines.  Here’s a YouTube video on how to make the SodaStream TSA friendly (by removing the CO2 and pressure valve).  We’ve since been refilling the tanks through a friend (contact me if you’d like further information).   Stateside, you can have the tanks refilled at many locations, including Bed Bath & Beyond.

Upon his return, while we waited to get our Soda Stream CO2 tank refilled, Spencer tried to switch to regular Coke in his rum.   With regular Coke being loaded with high fructose corn syrup (almost as evil as aspartame), this was obviously going to be a short term solution only, and he found it much too sweet!!

There are a few stevia based cola syrups on the market, but they still aren’t widely available (and certainly not here in the USVI) and they are expensive.   So Spencer decided that his evening adult cocktail of choice would become homemade Ginger Ale.

GingerFor Homemade Ginger Ale Syrup, simply cook the following in a saucepan over medium heat for half an hour until reduced by half (your kitchen will smell amazing!).   Let cool, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.   If you want to make candied ginger from the leftover pulp, peel your ginger. 

  • 1 pound of fresh gingeroot (unpeeled), approximately 4 cups.  Rough chop, then blend it up in a magic bullet or blender with some of the water
  • 2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 8 cups water total

For his Rum & Gingerale, he mixes:  2 oz Ginger Syrup, 2 oz Cruzan Rum & 6 oz Soda.

A month later – finally off diet coke & aspartame for good – Spencer made a few observations:    He was surprised to find he’d experienced “withdrawal” symptoms from the aspartame and diet coke, which further solidified his desire to get off the stuff.    He was sleeping much better,  and he was no longer waking up multiple times at night feeling thirsty.  I can only imagine how his insides felt !!

Over the summer, we also wanted to assist Spencer’s father in kicking the diet soda habit, and bought him a Soda Stream for his birthday.   Dad’s adult beverage of choice is Diet Gin & Tonic, but we were going to have to show him how to make it homemade ….

So for Spencer’s birthday, I put together a gift bag to make Homemade Gin & Tonics.   There are a number of recipes out there, but the recipe I went with (see below) is a combination of a recipe from Pinch and Swirl and a recipe from The NY Times Magazine Blog.    The Cocktail Dudes also have an awesome YouTube Video, using similar ingredients and quantities.


birthday-bagMy Hand Crafted Gin & Tonic Gift Bag included the following:

  • Cinchona Bark Powder Officinalis & Citric Acid Kit (click on link to purchase via Amazon)
  • High Quality Spices via  Allspice Berries, Cardamom Pods & Lavender
  • A bottle of good gin, such as Hendrick’s (available locally @ Plaza Extra for $25)
  • I stocked the fridge with plenty of citrus – lemons, limes, oranges & grapefruit.   We grow our own lemongrass.
  • Canned club soda or make your own using your SodaStream


You’ll want to be careful to follow the instructions.   Superfine straining and decanting is essential to remove the bark residue.    As a good friend and expert mixologist pointed out to me on Facebook:  “Be careful with home made tonic, the body will ‘store up’ quinine and it can be toxic; I have a few bartender friends who found out the hard way.  Home made contains a lot more than store bought.

A Quinine Case Study can be found at

On the plus side, as an herbal extract, cinchona bark and quinine extract cures malaria, is an anti-inflammatory, and aids those with arthritis.

But aside from that, Cinchona Bark flat out makes an awesome cocktail !!!!!   Even this non-G&T drinker LOVED IT 🙂


Tonic Syrup
This syrup turns an ordinary adult beverage into something extra-ordinary!
  • 4 cups water
  • ¼ cup (1 ounce/20 grams) cinchona bark, powdered (a coffee grinder does this well)
  • ¼ cup citric acid, also known as lemon or sour salt
  • 3 limes, only the peeled zests
  • 3 lemons, only the peeled zests
  • 1 grapefuit, only the peeled zests
  • 1 orange, only the peeled zests
  • 1 cup chopped lemongrass (3-4 stalks)
  • 4 whole allspice berries
  • 3 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon lavender
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • -----
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar (or experiment with combo stevia & sugar)
  • ½ cup water
  • -----
  • 1 oz Tonic Syrup
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 2 oz Hendrick's Gin
  • 4 oz Sparkling Soda Water
  • Lime Wedges
  1. Peel your citrus using a carrot peeler or a zester, leaving behind the more bitter white pith. In a covered saucepan, bring all Tonic Syrup ingredients to a boil and reduce heat immediately; simmer on low for a half hour, then remove from heat and allow to cool fully. Transfer to a carafe and chill for two days. Strain through a superfine chinois or cheesecloth, or by using a plunger press coffee maker. Return to carafe and refrigerate for a few more days, allowing sediment to accumulate on bottom. When layer seems stable, gently decant off the clearer liquid without disturbing the sediment “mud.” Funnel into a clean, cappable bottle and refrigerate, or freeze into 1 oz ice cubes for future use.
  2. To make the simple syrup, heat the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.



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